Devine City Council plays hardball with Little League

The Devine City Council pushed back against Devine Little League Board President Juan Zamora’s request that the contract between the two entities be amended to reflect his proposed changes.
Zamora petitioned Council for revisions regarding who maintains the Little League facility and has access to the fields during the offseason, and for the City to pay for the League’s water usage at the facility for a year.
The issues were only discussion items during the Special meeting on September 8, but were action items at the Regular meeting scheduled for press night on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Zamora’s first requested contract amendment at the Sept. 8 meeting involved maintenance of and access to the facility.
Devine Little League games are played on a City-owned facility on Upson Drive. In a meeting on Sept. 10, 2019, Council voted to amend its contract with the Little League, at the Little League’s request, to take on maintenance outside the fields’ fences during the six-month offseason and help renovate the bathrooms. The Little League Board agreed to open the fields to the public during the offseason.
Zamora offered two alternatives to that agreement.

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“One being if the City does want it to be managed or to be available like a park, that then the City maintain all of the complex,” Zamora said. “It was unclear in the lease who would manage the restrooms as a park, whether that was going to be the City, because it only talked about the fields and cutting grass.
“The other alternative would be to modify the language about making it a City park in the offseason, and that Little League would continue to manage the interior fields while the City would manage the exterior fields as part of the complex.”
“It’s my understanding that you never signed the previous contract that we modified for y’all already,” Mayor Cory Thompson said.
“Correct, because I didn’t agree with it,” Zamora said.
Zamora was installed as the Little League Board President in Sept. 2019, shortly after the City agreed to the League’s request to amend the contract between the two entities.
District 5 Councilwoman Debra Randall said that the City had upheld its end of the contract by mowing the grass outside the fences, something Zamora disputed.
“I’ve been out there probably ten times this summer cutting grass on the exterior and interior,” Zamora said. “I think [the City] cut it once at the very beginning of the closure when I notified Dora that our season was canceled. They cut once and maybe twice, but after that, we have been managing the entire complex.”
The amended contract between the City and the Little League, which is not valid because it was not signed by a Little League representative, stipulates that the City will mow outside the fences during the six-month offseason that runs from Sept. through February. Mowing outside the fences is the League’s responsibility during the six-month season from March through August.
Zamora’s second contract amendment request was for the City to provide the League with water free of charge for a year.
Zamora said that the League has not had an operational sprinkler system on the fields for many years and did not know how much water is required to properly maintain them. Consequently, the League wants to invest in the sprinkler system on the complex’s largest field and monitor water usage for a year to establish a baseline.
Zamora said the League currently uses 50,000 gallons of water a month.
“You’re saying once the sprinklers get done and y’all start the watering cycle, you’re wanting us to cover that for the year, for whatever that usage is?” Thompson asked.
“Correct, under certain criteria,” Zamora said. “We can get a consultant to give us a recommendation for baseball fields. How often should it be watered, how long should it be watered, and then we can establish what that looks like.”
Zamora said the big field had six zones with six sprinklers per zone for a total of 36 sprinklers. Scott Grego of SG Golf Management, the company that manages day-to-day operations of the Devine Golf Course, estimated that if the League waters only the big field three times a week, it will use roughly 30,000 gallons of water per week.
Mayoral candidate Angela Pichardo suggested that the League drill its own well or that the City transport gray water to the facility for irrigation.
“To be honest, I would hate investing any more money in that field just because of all its inadequacies already,” Zamora said. “Whether a well would be better than city water, again, it depends on who’s going to have to pay for it.”
Sandy Herrera, who is running for the District 5 Council seat, questioned why the City was expected to maintain the facility and waive the League’s bills.
“Because used to, the parents did it,” Herrera said. “I had parents out there, we were out there. Friends that did it for years, built everything, did everything, maintained everything, and had fundraisers and all that kind of stuff.”
“That happened a year ago, but it wasn’t that [the City] took total control,” Zamora said. “They had agreed to cut the exterior part of the field.
“As far as the parent piece, it’s a different time, different age.”
During the Sept. 10, 2019 meeting, Council agreed to the League’s request to waive the remaining $30,000 it still owed the City after the City agreed to front the $50,000 for the installation of flood lights at the field. The League had already repaid $20,000.
Thompson said that when the League requested that debt forgiveness, none of the then-Board members at the meeting could remember having any fundraisers the previous year.
“How many fundraisers have you had since you came on?” Thompson asked.
Zamora said the League didn’t have any both because the season was canceled and because of the risk of COVID-19, and when Thompson and Randall pointed out that the VFW and fire department were holding fundraisers that weekend, Zamora said that parents were busy because their children are involved in activities year-round.
“It is impossible to get parents to assist us when they’re knee-deep in other activities with their kids, and I understand that because I am one of those parents,” Zamora said. “I’m not here to make an argument one way or the other. I am here to say that the lease agreement, the lease amendment that was proposed last year, I was not in agreement with, neither was my Board, that we continue to maintain the property so that it could be a public park.
“If it is a public park, then it would seem that it would be maintained by the City.”
Thompson disagreed with the claim that it’s impossible to find volunteers, citing Herrera’s work with the Chamber of Commerce, the organization that puts on the Fall Festival every year.
“This is my opinion, I’m not speaking for Council here, but if people care about something enough, they’re going to make an effort to support that,” Thompson said, pointing out that when the City agreed to take over the golf course, over 100 residents showed up to urge Council to make that decision.
Zamora said he didn’t survey parents about why they don’t volunteer with the League, and that he was at the Council meeting to discuss the two alternatives he suggested to replace the contract that was amended in Sept. 2019 that he declined to sign.
“We go back a year, the reason why we changed the contract was because y’all were asking for forgiveness for like 30 grand worth of debt,” Thompson said.
“It only seems equitable, right?” Zamora said. “That something come to the community outside of the golf course.”
“We’re not discussing the golf course,” Thompson said. “We’re discussing right here, the contract that y’all had originally agreed to that you’ve now decided you don’t want to sign.”
Zamora then said that when he was initially elected as Board president, he texted Thompson to request a meeting. According to Zamora, Thompson’s response indicated there was no point to meeting because decisions are made by the City Council.
“So that was our first interaction,” Zamora said. “Not to show that you cared about the Little League, not to show that you cared about our youth or this community, but to wash your hands of the situation.”
Thompson said that his role as mayor is to present the meeting, and that Council holds decision-making power.
“You should have gone to your district Councilperson, or you should have come to us as an entire Council,” Thompson said.

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District 3 Councilman David Espinosa suggested having City Attorney Tom Cate, who was not at the meeting, sit down with Zamora to talk about the situation.
Randall posted the meeting agenda on her political Facebook page and said that District 5 residents were not in favor of the City paying for the League’s water usage. She also said that the contract amendments the City agreed to in 2019 didn’t transform the facility into park, just opened it up for resident use during the offseason in exchange for the City taking over mowing outside the fences during that time.
“You guys were in agreement,” Randall said. “I was here at that meeting, I remember. And you may have later decided not to, but that night it was, ‘Sure, you could do that; we don’t have a problem with that.’ I remember it.
“So bringing us something like this, saying that you want us to take care of everything or nothing? Well, my district is going to say, then, nothing.”
Zamora disagreed with the ‘everything or nothing’ description of his proposed alternatives, and added that the Board gets new members all the time.
“This was a different Board that came to you, made this request, and agreed to the request,” Zamora said.
“If it’s going to change that often, then why should we make a contract with you ever?” Randall asked.
Zamora again disputed the ‘everything or nothing’ description.
“I never said anything or nothing,” Zamora said. “I said if the City wants it to be a park for the community where everybody has access, then it would make sense that the City manage it. And the other alternative was if the City will continue to maintain it, the exterior, and we still have to maintain the interior, then let us not open it up to the public. That’s what I said. I think they’re two reasonable options.”
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer